Day By Day

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Man In Love

There is an astounding piece in the New Republic on David Brooks, a man completely and unabashedly infatuated with our fine young President.

That first encounter is still vivid in Brooks’s mind. “I remember distinctly an image of--we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.” In the fall of 2006, two days after Obama’s The Audacity of Hope hit bookstores, Brooks published a glowing Times column. The headline was “Run, Barack, Run.”
These days, the center-right Brooks frequently seems more sympathetic toward Obama than the liberal Paul Krugman.
Let's face it the poor boob is smitten -- and the basis of his attraction? Sheer intellectual snobbery.
“I divide people into people who talk like us and who don’t talk like us,” he explains. “Of recent presidents, Clinton could sort of talk like us, but Obama is definitely--you could see him as a New Republic writer. He can do the jurisprudence, he can do the political philosophy, and he can do the politics. I think he’s more talented than anyone in my lifetime. I mean, he is pretty dazzling when he walks into a room. So, that’s why it’s important he doesn’t f**k this up.”
Reading this I flashed back to a conversation I had last year over dinner with an Ivy-League trained intellectual who, like me, had grown up in small-town Pennsylvania. We had been going on at length about early Twentieth Century European political culture [his specialty] when the talk shifted to the upcoming election. I asked him why he, once a staunch McCain supporter, had switched to Obama. His response was that McCain had forfeited all claims to respect when he chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate. I pointed out that Sarah's credentials were in no way inferior to those Obama presented and he replied: "The point is, Palin could not have the kind of conversation we are having, and Obama could." In his mind that was all that really mattered -- whether or not a person could present himself as an intellectual.

I was floored. This was a guy who used to rail at length over beers against the intellectual snobbery of Ivy League luminaries who looked down on his working-class Catholic origins. Now he was sounding just like them. He had become a member of the tribe.

I used to admire Brooks' writing. His critique of the emergent meritocracy's role in postwar American culture is spot on. But since he started writing for the New York Times he, like my friend, has come to epitomize the things he once despised [or pretended to]. There seems to be a socialization process taking place in our elite institutions by which once free-thinking individuals become assimilated to a set of elite values that holds ordinary Americans in contempt. Apparently, resistance is futile.